As online schooling became inevitable at the turn of summer 2020, many students were faced with the dilemma of another expensive semester sitting in front of a Zoom screen or the risky alternative of taking time off. This week, Loyolan interviewed some of these students, learning about their life away from Virtual Bluff. Below, read thoughts from Zaki Farooqi, a sophomore film and television production student, Ambuj Bhatnagar, a junior mechanical engineering student, and Ava Pangborn, a sophomore engineering student.
Alexis SooHoo (AS): Which semester did you take time off from and why?
Zaki Farooqi (ZF): I took my second year off, so the academic year 2020 to 2021. I took the entire gap year because as a SFTV major there is a lot of value in being on campus. You are constantly networking and working on various projects, all of which I would miss being online. This way, I still get my four years of college as I planned, even if it’s a year late.
Ambuj Bhatnagar (AB): I was on leave last semester, just for fall 2020. I took time off to get out of my head and figure some things out on my own.
Ava Pangborn (AP): This current spring semester is the one I’m taking off. I was doing an online school while living in LA last semester. My dad passed away in October 2019. With COVID, online school and grief, this semester has been a long time coming. I never faced him.
AS: What are some of the goals or projects you worked on during your leave?
ZF: I’m a film editor, so I edited films, did freelance work. I took stock of the year 2020 for a Disney Plus producer, Scott Stenholm. I also really enjoy powerlifting, so I took part in this competition last December. I’m now in the top 20 in my team weight class, which is pretty cool. My favorite activity has been doing freelance video work in the fitness industry. I went to Colorado for a charity event called Lift Together; it’s crazy because I feel like the editing I’m doing now is already way beyond what I could do six months ago.
A B: I just sort of worked. I had two jobs most of the time, and for a small part I worked three. It was disgusting. My first two jobs were minimum wage jobs; one was an inventory associate and the other was a bookstore for a community college. I had plenty of time to read – I didn’t, but if I was feeling wild I would open a book every now and then. The third was as a Python developer. I loaded the books after working between 5 and 10 a.m. so it was exhausting. Technically, I’m still working there, but they’re on hiatus right now. I also made some money, so having money that wasn’t my parents’ was super cool. I count it as a victory. I feel like other people would say, “Oh, you didn’t have an internship,” but I appreciated my time.
PA: I was more active. By going for walks and hikes, I have more free time. I had personal goals for me. My brother has celiac disease and my doctor thought I had an intolerance. So I went on a diet in high school to see what it would be like. When I reintroduced new foods, I messed them up. So now I was able to come back to it since I can cook on my own. With the death of my father, I never really got to deal with it, and it was definitely something I wanted to do with my family. I worked on my grief, saw a therapist. Since I finally got out of school, this is something I have had time to focus on.
AS: How has it been to create a new daily routine outside of the usual school boundaries?
ZF: Obviously, I have a lot more free time. If I’m on schedule and have a project, it’s pretty similar to what I was doing at LMU. So I wake up when I want, I work as much as I can and I fall asleep.
A B: It was a big change because I really had to be on top of my schedule. It’s not like I wasn’t like that in college. But it’s different because when you work you can lose your job if you take a day off. Not only did I have to show up, but I also had to keep my sanity and physical health, making sure everything was done. On weekdays my hours were crazy, so the time I didn’t spend working had to be managed very tightly as well. I was really able to work on myself, when I didn’t have time to do it while I was in college.
PA: I have been working as a nanny since I left school. I pick up the children in the early afternoon, I hang out with them until seven or eight o’clock. On weekends, I visit friends from high school; so I went to Tuscon, Flagstaff and Tempe, see people going to public schools. In the morning, I can go for hikes before going to work. I decided to reread the Harry Potter books, and it was the first time since third grade. It turned out to be a really rewarding experience actually, just the chance to slow down for the first time in a very, very long time.
AS: What emotional changes have you had to deal with since your leave?
ZF: I am a sociable person, I would say. It is therefore difficult to see less people every day. And I really miss LMU, so that sucks. It seems that by the time you get to college you have understood the course of your life, especially when it comes to balancing school, work, hobbies and interests. But a lot of it depends on having a school in the first place, having a foundation for your productivity, and how you spend most of your time. But since the school is not there, you have to find what to do to replace it; and if you are not replacing him, how to accept his absence. It’s like a family member, someone who’s still there, and now they’re gone.
A B: My emotional changes have certainly been great lessons and life lessons. First of all, I really realized how important an education was. I thought I knew this before, but I met a lot of people who couldn’t afford to go to college. It added a lot of perspective because they had these jobs because they had to support themselves somehow. I realized how precious my time was, I felt like I was underpaid for the time I spent there. I kept asking, “What do I get out of this?” I realized how tiring this work is, and it is so humbling. I know I’m not going to be in these jobs all of my life. I’m in a major with lots of job opportunities, and the people I’ve met can’t say the same. I felt very happy with the position I held and I am grateful for the opportunities I have.
PA: Certainly, the lack of stress at school was pleasant; one has the impression that a weight has been lifted. Schooling online has been more difficult than in person because it has been so isolated. It’s nice when I’m talking to a friend and I don’t feel the stress of my limited time because I don’t have to study for anything right now. It has also been fun growing up and healing with my family. I feel like we can finally solve these problems together. I love having the time to do it without the stress of school, and I feel so much happier.
AS: If you had to do it again, would you still take time off? Would you recommend it to others?
ZF: I mean, these are really unique moments. In a typical year, leaving means being out of step with your classmates, missing them all growing together. But there was none of that going on this year, so even if I had done absolutely nothing, it would be worth having this fourth year back on campus. Guess I wouldn’t recommend it in normal times just because it takes a year off in your 20s. Unless you’re doing something really meaningful with your time, it’s important to embrace your role as a student.
A B: I think most college students should take time off. The best time is after graduating from high school. It’s four years you’ll never see again. My first two years were a lot. “Adult” means that you have to take care of yourself, find out who you are, be in control of your life. Taking that gap semester really allowed me to take control of life instead of living without intention. Because I had a lot more time to think, I was able to set out on this path.
PA: I think it’s beneficial – it’s hard to say because my situation has led to it. Mourn the loss of my father. I lived in LA last semester and felt so lonely. It was one bad decision after another. Initially, I was just going to take online classes from home, but I honestly think it was not beneficial for my education. Honestly, you have to make this decision for yourself. We’re not in high school anymore, you can’t base your life on other people. I realized that I had to do what was best for me.